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Harper case latest disappointment with Pittsburgh leaders

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By Nafari Vanaski
Thursday, March 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A regular reader contacted me last week to gauge my reaction to the indictment of former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper.

“Chief Harper proves that people disappoint, not (a) surprise,” she wrote.

It's not a surprise if you've lived here long enough. It didn't take long after I got here to realize that there was a dark side to the work habits of too many Pittsburgh city employees that didn't just materialize when Harper opened a secret bank account.

What do I know about it? Well, shortly after my now-husband and I moved here in 2003, we settled into a house in the North Side. We quickly received several tickets by mail for garbage violations, including for putting trash out to the curb too early (the evening before) and for not hiring a commercial hauler for business-related trash (discarded fax cover sheets that were dug out of our trash). Each ticket was sent to both of us, which brought the grand total to just more than $2,000.

The Public Works supervisor who wrote the tickets lived a few blocks away. When we went to court, he made a disparaging comment about my husband's “California” car (a gorgeous powder blue 1962 Buick Skylark), which had exactly nothing to do with our trash tickets. That hinted to me that he was a little too close to the case, and there might be something else behind this, hopefully not that my husband is white and I'm black.

When we pointed out to the magistrate that the city's website says garbage need only be taken out by 5 a.m. the day of pickup, she dismissed the argument and knocked our penalty down to $300. We continued to fight the tickets until they were all tossed.

Not long after this, KDKA did a report on the supervisor, whom they found home on vacation with a city-owned vehicle parked in front of his house — a violation of city rules.

Then we read a story in the Trib about the magistrate who heard our case. She was apparently caught on camera taking parking tickets off other cars and putting them on her illegally parked car to appear that she had been ticketed. The state eliminated her position and barred her from the bench.

The Public Works supervisor was later caught improperly receiving overtime money. He and three other supervisors had collected more than $25,000 in two years. He apparently had to repay the money but wasn't fired.

Even after the exposure and everything else, we saw him digging again through our trash. We called our City Council member, leaving a detailed message about the situation. Not a peep; maybe she was planning a run for mayor.

Our issues with the supervisor finally stopped when we took photos of his city vehicle parked behind his house. He called the police on us for taking the photos. An officer called us from the guy's home, relaying a message that the supervisor would stop if we would drop the issue.

All these incidents are true, and perhaps like something you've personally experienced in Pittsburgh. Anyone could figure out the players by searching Google. I'm not bringing them up to open old wounds. My point is, the names change, but the culture is the same.

So, no, we're not surprised.

Nafari Vanaski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, or on Twitter @NafariTrib.

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